Steven Nolt's Approach to the Immigrant Story in the Early Republic
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Steven Nolt takes a different approach the immigrant story during the early Republic. Nolt argues that German immigrants were in fact the first true immigrants of the United States because they were the first to struggle culturally to a new country. The immigrants before them were border countries to England, such as the Irish and Scottish. These groups had minimal problems fitting in because they were so similar. The Germans on the other hand had quite a bit more difficulty adapting because their first language was not English and their cultures were drastically different than their new neighbors.
Nolt focuses on a different era than most historians, which gives great insight into the struggle and times. Instead of focusing on the nineteenth century like most, Nolt relies on the period of the early republic (1790-1848.) Before this early republic period, Germans would mostly stick to themselves. German immigrants would rely on local German communities and would not try to Americanize. The German culture and language made life difficult to transition to the new type of English culture and language that surrounded them. These Germans did not know how to identify as Americans yet, they identified as German while they lived in these small communities.
Germans went from a culture of being peasants that relied on local authority and control from land owners or government to a community of liberty and personal freedoms. This idea was appealing but unknown to these German immigrants. Nolt points out a very interesting aspect of this shift in culture when he discusses public education. Public education was a new idea that threatened the tradition of a parochial school.
America was a new place for the German immigrants to call home, n...
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Nolt demands the unique aspect of a group of people that have usually been looked over by other historians. Although Germans begin to blend with the new American way of life, most of their cultures and lifestyles stay. Only through time and multiple generations do reforms and changes begin to occur. This overall theme of unique identity being Americanized is strong throughout Nolt’s entire work. The only thing Nolt could add to make his writing even better would be to make the material a bit more attentive to the reader. Sections would have been easier to follow and get through if Nolt had written to a wider audience than just those academic thinkers that are researching specific content. Even though Foreigners in Their Own Land was not an easy or quick read, Nolt wrote an interesting and somewhat new perspective on an overlooked era and generation.